Ticks have evolved to burrow their mouthparts into their victims’ skin without being noticed, enabling them to feast for days.
These long feeding times provide ample time for the ticks to transmit pathogens such as Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. But a new vaccine that sparks an immune response to tick bites might help fight Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
The anti-tick vaccine uses mRNA, much like the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. It spurs the body to create antibodies against proteins in tick saliva, causing a rashy, red reaction. New research in guinea pigs finds that ticks drop off vaccinated victims more quickly than unvaccinated. In humans, the reaction would likely provide early notice of a tick bite, ensuring that the person would remove the parasite quickly even if it didn’t fall off on its own.
“When you get early redness and early recognition, you pull the tick off,” says Erol Fikrig, a professor of infectious disease at the Yale School of Medicine and the senior author of the new study. “In our experience, when we pulled the tick off when redness occurred, protection against Lyme disease was very strong.”
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